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Morris W. O'Kelly Headshot

'N***a' Will Never Be Funny... Especially in The Hangover Part II

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This is not a movie review, a history lesson or a call to action. It is simply a statement of truth.

I could go to painstaking lengths, detailing how deeply offensive and unfunny the repeated and gratuitous use of n**** in the movie The Hangover Part II was, but the damage in large part has already been done. This bell can't be un-rung.

Nevertheless, this much must be said. The use of n**** is not funny, appreciated or acceptable in any context, by anyone who utters it.

Hate crime legislation and the FCC are clear in regards to the word, the rest of us need to be clear too.

I could create a historical time line ranging from Birth of a Nation in 1915 to The Hangover Part II in 2011 and illustrate how n***a is nothing more than the cinematic cousin of n***er and equally offensive when employed as a tool to generate laughs. But let's just keep this simple.

The use of the N-word (n***er or n***a) is not funny, appreciated or acceptable in any context, by anyone who utters it.

In fact, if I were so inclined, I could hyperlink readers to each and every story about the lack of diversity in Hollywood and juxtapose this reality with The Hangover Part II. There was a plethora of Asian actors but not a single utterance of an Asian epithet or showcasing of a negative Asian stereotype. Conversely, The Hangover Part II did feature all types of references to African-American "culture" and managed to weave "n****" multiple times into a script written by zero African-Americans and movie featuring none.

How screenwriters Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong and writer/director Todd Phillips felt comfortable enough to give a co-starring role to n**** but also manage zero African-American actors (save Mike Tyson cameo) is odd and curious at best. Opting for ethnic jokes about people not on screen, instead of ones relative to the people on them... odd and curious.

Though mostly rhetorical, the question still should be asked. Who exactly was the sounding board in this process?

A production devoid of African-Americans in the writing process can not be used as the reference point or stamp of approval for n**** being either humorous or acceptable. It is ridiculous to argue otherwise.

Mazin, Armstrong and Phillips have no business trying to tell me the African-American the use of n**** is either hilarious or is mainstream.

It is neither.

No amount of movie receipts changes these facts. Former actor and unfunny comedian Michael Richards knows this to be true. Dog the Bounty Hunter knows this to be true. And surely more recently Mel Gibson is clear on this distinction. Not with an "er" or a "ga" serving as the last syllable. The etymology and associated history are the same.

The use of n**** is not funny, appreciated or acceptable in any context, by anyone. Not by Chris Rock, Zach Galifianakis, Jesse Jackson or Ken Jeong.

Yes, we could spend all day rehashing and rebutting screenwriter/director Phillips' assertions that his work specializes in "mayhem" or that a lot of thought and concern went into the inclusion of n****.

Whatever.

The use of n**** is not funny, appreciated or acceptable in any context, by anyone. Not in rap music, not in black comedic routines. Not in movies. Not by Latinos. Not by Asian comedians in movies, not by white comedic actors trying to test the boundaries of comedy in movies. Everyone who uses it deserves blame and sanction. It is ridiculous to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Freedom Riders and see the cavalier use of n**** in The Hangover Part II in the same month.

You can't celebrate both and I surely won't.

I suspect that Mazin, Armstrong and Phillips did not consult any surviving Freedom Riders before including n**** in their script. Just because something is done under the pretext of humor, it doesn't mean it's either funny or inoffensive. Going further, for as supposedly over-the-top the Hangover movies are purported to be... there weren't any jokes or epithets targeting Jews or gays. And that's OK too... there shouldn't have been. The omissions were noticed nonetheless. There are some lines Mazin, Armstrong and Phillips consciously choose not to cross, that's the good news. The bad news is that they felt comfortable enough crossing this one.

I guess it's just "funnier" to see the white character say n**** in relaying a text from the Asian character containing n**** or refer to the Middle Eastern character as n****.

Chuckle, chortle, sniggle, guffaw. Yes, "n****" always makes for great laughs.

Funny? Hardly. Noticed? Absolutely.

This is not about boycotting the movie, this is about being on the historical record. People walk away from that movie wrongly believing that n**** is somehow funny or acceptable.

It is neither.

When someone emotionally in between sees the movie and is unsure, there needs to be a record of someone telling the truth, setting it straight and making it plain.

This word has no place in our cinema, our music, our poetry slams, our lexicon. Its non-use symbolizes growth and tolerance, not the converse. Its power is not usurped by any supposed attempt to make it more mainstream. Its etymology is inextricably linked to n***er and that history has been well-documented. It is not in need of a makeover, we need to be done with it once and for all.

What's done is done. We can't un-ring the bell of The Hangover Part II, but I will in no way be complicit with the idea that n****, in any form, iteration or permutation is humorous, acceptable or indicative of racial progress in America. It was born in ignorance and continues to thrive only in places of ignorance. No amount of jokes written will ever change this truth.

Mazin, Armstrong and Phillips would be wise to employ better advisers the next time they seek to both generate laughs and avoid flagrantly offending members of the African-American community. They have carelessly put forth the idea that n*** is"ok" in 2011.

It's not and never will be.

(Correction: I was informed that the Ken Jeong character having small genitalia was an "Asian" negative stereotype featured in the movie. Although I personally didn't perceive it as such while watching the movie, it's more than fair to acknowledge it accordingly here.)

Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and he welcomes all commentary.